The last few years have suggested an even playing field in the Eastern Maine Class A girls basketball ranks, with four different regional champions crowned over the last four seasons.
Many of the league’s coaches feel that will be the case again this year, with a number of teams having a legitimate shot to emerge from Augusta as regional champs in February.
Defending champion Skowhegan, which didn’t lose a game until the state final last winter in claiming its first regional title since 1979, returns with a strong club.
Even though coach Heath Cowan’s team will be a tad shorthanded for the first few games, as All-Maine third-teamer Whitney Jones works her way back from a foot injury, the Indians still have plentyof experience, led by Amanda Johnson, Adrienne Davis and Chyenne Malloy.
“The kids are pretty excited to have the opportunity that they’re going to have,” Cowan said.
Jones injured her foot in an MBR Showcase All-Star game in late November, and while the senior point guard should be able to return in late December, it gives Cowan a chance to rotate some other players in and out.
“A bunch of other kids will get a chance to play where Whit would be eating those other minutes,” he said.
Skowhegan’s chief challenger in the KVAC North division appears to be Hampden Academy, which returns its entire varsity roster after making the regional semifinals a year ago.
But the Broncos aren’t resting on those laurels, and they’ve already turned the page to the new season.
“We can’t go into any game thinking that we’re going to win, because it’s a new season, everything from last year’s erased,” said senior guard Michaela Stephenson.
Stephenson and backcourt mate Katelyn DeRaps, the latter the only Bronco having experienced a tourney game prior to last winter, feel that every night is going to be a challenge.
“I can’t even think of a team that’s not going to be hard,” DeRaps said. “Everyone thinks that we’ll be pretty good, but I think a lot of teams are going to be really good.”
Among coach Chad Bradbury’s other key returners are Julia Snyder, Whitney Moore, Ashley Danforth, Courtney Doyon and Helene Sherburne, while the newcomers include sophomores Ellie Webb, Jordan Maxwell and Alex Winchester, whom Stephenson believes will make an impact.
“They definitely made varsity for a reason and I think it only adds to our depth even more, which will be really nice,” she said. “When we play in big games we’ll be able to get fresh legs in every couple of minutes.”
Bangor will have a fresh look with a new coach in Katie (Clark) Herbine, a former standout for the Rams who went on to play at the University of Maine.
The Rams finished last season hot, just missing out on qualifying for the tournament, something Herbine’s club is seeking to change, as Bangor has missed out on postseason play the last two seasons.
“I think that’s the goal, they want to get there, the kids never been there, for most varsity teams that play here in Maine thats the goal, to get to the tournament,” she said.
Bangor features seven seniors, led by top offensive threat Hillary Throckmorton, while her six classmates include Kim Jordan, Bri McKenna, Caroline Hetterman, Diedra Johnson, Marissa Grandchamp and Jess Doherty.
The Rams were still putting some pieces of their new offensive and defensive systems in late in the preseason and early in the regular season, and Herbine likes how well her players are adjusting.
“We’re starting to see what groups play well together, we’re still putting in new offenses, the kids are a little bit overwhelmed right now but they’re doing a great job right now with trying to (learn) it,” she said.
One team that could give the top clubs fits could be Brewer, and while the Witches won’t be blessed with height, they’ll make up for it with hard work and tenacity.
“We always look to transition first, that’s just how we are,” said Witches’ senior guard Holly Nickerson. “We know that we’re (small), so we’re just going to run and run and run.”
Brewer features three seniors in Nickerson, Faith Thomas and point guard Rylee Hutchins, while sophomore Morgan Small improved vastly during the preseason.
“Anybody would love coaching a kid like Morgan Small,” said Witches coach Andy Nickerson.
Brewer was young last season, with five freshmen, but that varsity experience will hopefully carry over this year.
“There’s not one person on this team that doesn’t help us, everybody contributes, we don’t have one dominant player,” said Holly Nickerson, whose sister, Megan, is a sophomore on the team.
Brunswick, which fell to Skowhegan in the regional title game last winter, features a top post player in Lydia Caputi, while Cony of Augusta looks strong out of the South as well.